Media Information Note: Cassini-Huygens prepares for closest approach to Titan

Press Release From: Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
Posted: Thursday, October 21, 2004


UK scientists and industrialists involved in the NASA, ESA, ASI Cassini-Huygens space mission are eagerly awaiting the data to be received when the spacecraft makes its closest fly-by of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, on 26th October.

At the time of the closest approach, which is scheduled to be at 5.44 pm BST (9.44 am PDT), the spacecraft will travel a mere 1200km (745 miles) above the surface of the moon at a speed of 6.1 km per second. Confirmation that the flyby has been successful and that all the data have been received will not take place until 2.30 a.m BST, 27th Oct (6.30 pm PDT 26th Oct).

This close flyby will be looking at all aspects of Titan, which although it is the second largest moon in the solar system, after Jupiter's Ganymede, we know relatively little about.

The instruments on board Cassini will be looking at the moon's interior structure, surface characteristics, atmospheric properties and interactions with Saturn's magnetosphere.

Furthermore the studies will provide important information for ESA's Huygens team, who will be using the data gathered to verify the atmospheric models developed for the separation and descent and landing of the Huygens probe on 25th December and 14th January respectively.

Further data from the imaging and radar instrumentation onboard Cassini should provide an indication of whether the likely landing surface for the Huygens probe will be solid or liquid material.

The first images are expected at 2.30 am BST on 28th (6.30 pm PDT on 27th) and will be posted on

Professor John Zarnecki from the Open University who is lead scientist for the Science Surface Package on the Huygens Probe, is eagerly awaiting the results.

"This first close-up look at Titan should enable us to find out just how precisely our atmospheric models fit with the real situation and of course we are excited about the prospect of discovering just what type of surface the Huygens probe will land on early next year. In other words we want to know if our instruments will land with a splash or a thud!"

Professor Michele Dougherty, from Imperial College, lead scientist for the Magnetometer instrument on Cassini added, "Titan's atmosphere is similar to the very early atmosphere of the Earth and by studying its properties we can start to unravel some of the mysteries of the planet. The Cassini Magnetometer experiment will investigate Titan's interior and variations in the magnetic field measurements could indicate the presence of an ocean contaminated by salty materials like in the Earth's oceans and in the hypothesised oceans of Callisto and Europa in the Jovian System."

UK scientists are playing significant roles in the Cassini Huygens mission with involvement in 6 of the 12 instruments onboard the Cassini orbiter and 2 of the 6 instruments on the Huygens probe. The UK has the lead role in the magnetometer instrument on Cassini (Imperial College) and the Surface Science Package on Huygens (Open University).

UK industry had developed many of the key systems for the Huygens probe, including the flight software (LogicaCMG) and parachutes (Martin Baker). These mission critical systems need to perform reliably in some of the most challenging and remote environments ever attempted by a man made object. For examples, the Huygens probe will hit the atmosphere of Titan at 6 km/sec. LogicaCMG's software onboard the probe will be responsible for deploying the parachutes, separating the front and back shield with precise timings to achieve the required descent profile; reducing the velocity of Huygens before commencing the science experiments, and managing communications back to Cassini.

Media Events

NASA will be hosting a series of media events to cover the flyby. Further details can be found at:-

For details the log in/dial in information for the briefings please contact the JPL press office on 001 818 354 5011 or

Gill Ormrod in the PPARC Press Office Tel: 01793 442012. Mobile: 0781 8013509.

October 25th media workshop

A listen and log-on workshop. The website to support this event This site will not go live until 5.00 pm BST (9.00 am PDT). In order to get log in/dial in details contact either the JPL or PPARC Press Office (details above).

October 26th - Titan flyby. Closest approach is at 5.44 pm BST (9.44 am PDT). The first downlink occurs at approximately 2.30 a.m. BST, 27th Oct (6.30 pm PDT 26th Oct). NASA TV coverage will run from 2.30 am - 8.00 am BST (6.30 pm to midnight PDT).

October 27th news briefing on the first images - 5 pm BST (9.00 am PDT). Images to be posted on

October 28th news briefing on additional science results - 5pm BST (9.00 am PDT) Call in number is 00 1 818 354 6170.

October 29th news briefing - summary of results - 5pm BST (9.00 am PDT) Listen and log-on event. The website to support this event This site will not go live until 5.00 pm BST (9.00 am PDT). In order to get log in details contact either the JPL or PPARC Press Office (details above).

NASA TV coverage

NASA TV will provide extensive mission coverage of the flyby and related press conferences with the exception of the listen and log in press briefings, which are not televised. A full schedule of live news briefings is available on the NASA TV site at

The flyby

Titan has a diameter of 5150 km (3200 miles) so the spacecraft passes within 1.5 Titan radii.

Titan Background

Titan is a highly complex world and is closer to a terrestrial planet than a moon typical of the outer planetary systems.

Titan was first seen by Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens (after which the ESA probe is named) in 1655.

Not only is Titan the largest of Saturn's satellites, it is also larger than the planets Mercury and Pluto, and is the second largest satellite in the solar system (Jupiter's Ganymede being larger). It is the only satellite in the solar system with appreciable atmosphere, composed mostly of Nitrogen, but also contains aerosols and hydrocarbons, including methane and ethane. Titan's atmosphere was first confirmed in 1944 when Gerard Kuiper confirmed the presence of gaseous methane with spectroscopy.

Titan's peak surface temperature is about 95 K (-178 degrees C) and surface pressure is 1.6 Earth atmospheres. At this temperature and pressure, many simple chemicals that are present in abundance (methane, ethane, water, ammonia) provide materials in solid, liquid and gaseous form which may interact to create exotic features on the surface. Precipitation, flowing liquids, lakes and eruptions are all possible.

Titan orbits Saturn at a distance of just over 20 Saturn radii (1,222,000 km/759,000 miles) which is far enough to carry the moon in and out of Saturn's magnetosphere. Very little is known about Titan's interior structure, including whether it has its own magnetic field.

Titan's surface has been difficult to study, as it is veiled by a dense hydrocarbon haze that forms in the dense stratosphere as methane is destroyed by sunlight. From the data collected so far, dark features can be seen crossing the equatorial region of Titan, with a large bright region near longitude 90 degrees now named Xanadu, and possibly a large crater in the northern hemisphere.

Press Contacts

Peter Barratt - PPARC Press Office
Tel: 01793 442025. Email:
Mobile: 0787 9602899

Gill Ormrod - PPARC Press Office
Tel: 01793 442012. Email:
Mobile: 0781 801 3509

Carolina Martinez - JPL Press Office
Media Relations Office +1 818-354-9382 or Email

Franco Bonacina - ESA Press Office
Tel: +33 1 5369 7155. Email:

Eulina Clairmont - Open University Press Office
Tel: 01908 653248. Email:

Judith Moore - University College London Press Office
Tel: 020 7679 7678

Science Contacts

Professor Michele Dougherty, Imperial College - PI on the Magnetometer
instrument (Cassini)
Contact through Abigail Smith, Imperial Press Office.
Tel: 020 7594 6701 or 07761 799089.
Email Email:

Professor Carl Murray, Queen Mary, University of London - Co-I on the Imaging Science Subsystem (Cassini)
Office: 0207 8825456

Professor John Zarnecki, Open University - PI on the Science Surface Package (Huygens) and Co-I on the Huygens Atmospheric Instrument
Office : 01908 659599 Mobile: 07769 943883.

Cassini Electron Spectrometer (CAPS-ELS)
Dr Andrew Coates, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, UCL
Tel: 01483 204145. Email:
Mobile: 07788 448318

Professor Manuel Grande - Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Tel: 01235 446501. Mail:

Magnetometer (MAG)
Dr Nick Achilleos, Imperial College (Cassini science, instruments and operations)
Tel: 020 75947759. Email:

Dr Ingo Mueller-Wodarg, Imperial College (Titan science, Cassini science, INMS team)
Tel: 020 75947674. Mobile: 07973 271816. Email:

Professor Stan Cowley, Leicester University
Tel: 0116 2231331. Email:

Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS)
Dr Patrick Irwin, University of Oxford
Tel: 01865 272083. Email:

Professor Peter Ade, University of Cardiff
Tel: 029 20874643. Email:

Radio and Plasma Waves Instrument (RPWS)
Dr Hugo Alleyne, University of Sheffield
Co-Investigator on Tel: 0114 222 5630.

Cosmic Dust Analyser
Professor Tony McDonnell - Open University
Tel: 01908 659602. Email:

Huygens - Science Surface Package and Huygens Atmospheric Instrument Mr Mark Leese - Open University
Tel: 01908 652561. Email:

Dr Simon Green - Open University
Tel: 01908 659601. Email:

Dr Andrew Ball - Open University
Tel: 01908 659596. Email:

Dr Martin Towner - Open University Tel: 01908 659594. Email: m.c.towne

Peter Challenor, Southampton Oceanography Centre
Tel: 023 80596413. Email:

UK industrial involvement

UK industry is also playing a significant role in the mission, rising to the challenge of designing equipment that may have to work autonomously in a hostile environment at the very low temperatures of around minus 200 degrees Celsius.

LogicaCMG - Contact: Nick Shave, Space & Satcoms Operations Manager, LogicaCMG. Email:

LogicaCMG PR - Alex Rowley.
Tel: 0207 4197331. Email:

Martin Baker Space Systems - Contact: Steve Lingard.
Tel: 01865 893210. Email:

Irvin-GQ - Contact: Geoff Linaker. Tel: 01656 727000. Email:

IGG Component Technology - Contact: Graham Peters.
Tel: 01329 829311. Email:

Ultra Electronics - Contact: Paul Austin. Tel: 01543 878888. Email: or Mike Hellard. Tel: 01543 878888. Email:

Web Sites:- NASA -


UK Goes to the Planets -

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL.

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public understanding in four broad areas of science - particle physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science.

PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, CERN, the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory. It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility.

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